The Australian car making industry was a complete misnomer. There was no such thing. It was always a foreign-owned car industry.
Australia was merely a postal address for the auto behemoths when they were globalising their market share and their profits.
Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Mitsubishi milked the generous subsidies and tax breaks offered by Federal and State Governments since World War Two.
All the excess profits were removed from Australia and transferred back to Detroit, Tokyo or Seoul. Australian taxpayers have subsidised this auto-larceny for more than 60 years.
The closure of General Motors’ Holden operations in SA, Victoria and Queensland by 2017 is a direct result of the global slump in profits, rising costs and the over-valuation of the Aussie dollar.
After the departure of Ford, Mitsubishi and General Motors, how long before Toyota follows with the closure of the Altona plant?
The exodus of the foreign-owned car giants is an instructive lesson in the corporate banditry of globalisation: overseas companies will base themselves in Australia only so long as taxpayers are prepared to subsidise their operations (i.e. profits).
It is important to remember that there once was an Australian-owned manufacturing sector. It was never large, but it was profitable, inventive and occupied an important segment of the national economy, providing jobs and training for skilled workers.
No modern economy can operate without a skilled work force, a manufacturing sector, a well-funded state education system and a robust currency. These were national goals up to the end of World War Two.
The arrival of the Menzies Government marked the introduction of corporate carpetbaggers from the UK, the US and then Asia. They destroyed local competition or swallowed it – all with the blessing of Canberra. How much money changed hands between politicians and lobbyists can only be guessed at.
By the 1960s foreign penetration had reached a high water mark.
Profiting from subsidies
Ford had plants in Geelong, Ballarat, Broadmeadows, Sydney and Brisbane; Australian Motor Industries, Standard Motor Company and Mercedes Benz, Rambler and Fiat tractors had plants in Melbourne and Sydney; British Motor Corporation (Austin and Morris) had plants in Melbourne and Sydney; Chrysler Australia had plants in Keswick, Mile End and Finsbury, Continental and General Distributors; Peugeot plant in Heidelberg, Melbourne (bought out by Misubishi); Fiat had a tractor assembly at the Pressed Metal Corporation plant in Sydney; General Motors had Holden plants in Port Melbourne, Dandenong, Adelaide, and Sydney; International Harvester had a plant in Geelong; Leyland Motors had plants in Melbourne and Sydney; Renault was assembled by Clyde Industries, Victoria; Rootes had plants at Port Melbourne and Dandenong; Rover’s Land Rover was made and assembled at Pressed Metal Corporation, Sydney; Volkswagen had a plant in Clayton, Victoria; Willys Motors (Australia) had a plant in Rocklea, Brisbane.
The mining monopolies had been exploiting the country’s mineral resources since the beginning of the 20th century and they have been profiting from huge subsidies, tax rorting and transfer pricing ever since. “Big Pharma” is now following in their footsteps.
The Abbott Government is wedded ideologically to the primacy of the mining and banking industries, the profit gougers who now control the commanding heights of the Australian economy.
However, without a manufacturing sector, Australian society will slip into cultural stagnation and the work force will become more casualised and unskilled. The social consequences will be borne by young people, unemployed workers and the elderly.
When Margaret Thatcher shut down sections of outdated British industry in the 1980s, communities in northern England, Scotland and Wales never recovered. All the talk of new industries and “transitional training” came to nothing and two generations were crushed by the City of London’s obsession with so-called “market forces”.
Australia is now facing a critical philosophical struggle provoked by the car-making shutdown and the exit of the foreign plunderers. What master plan should Australia adopt to serve its next generation, its new economy and its future?
The Abbott crowd are channelling Menzies, Howard and Thatcher while Shorten still hasn’t left the backward culture of the AWU where he was national secretary before he entered parliament.
Fancy a career in politics? Start writing an industry/education policy for the Australia/Asia century.